future of rock 'n roll
One way to have a no-bummer summer: Austin girls find their beat (and power) atGirls Rock Camp
Austin musician Kathy Valentine, of The Go-Go’s fame but also a successful musician in her own right, only lasted half a semester at Reagan High School. She felt different from the other students, and the only solace she could find was in being a wild child — drinking and getting high.
“I didn’t have my music then,” she told Margaret Moser of the Austin Chronicle.
Valentine’s experience, like so many girls who try to break into the still male-dominated rock music scene at an early age, is all the more reason to be thankful for Girls Rock Camp Austin. This non-profit organization exists to empower females of all backgrounds and ability through musical education and performance. And it can give the future Kathy Valentines of the world a whole new entry into rock ‘n roll.
“Representation of girls in the rock-music industry and culture has always been the exception rather than the rule,” says GRCA interim executive director Melinda Chow. “As much as we’d like to think that all things are equal now, reality shows us that girls and women still have an uphill battle in the world of rock music and in many other fields. Female artists still tend to be less respected, less supported and viewed as less skilled in nearly all facets of the music industry.”
GRCA is a day camp exclusively for girls, where qualified counselors instruct campers in guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals. Armed with fresh, enhanced skills, campers then form bands and learn to write original songs together, which they perform at the camp’s finale. There are also workshops where campers learn about such things as team-building, famous women rockers, exploration of gender and identity issues, music journalism, ‘zine publishing, silk screening, how to get started in the music business and more.
The strength of GRCA is its focus on female empowerment, and music as the vehicle for positive messaging. Chow says, “When a girl attends our camp who has never done anything like this before and realizes she can not only learn how to play an instrument, but also work with other girls to have her own band, write her own song and play it in front of hundreds of people cheering — then she'll pick up on the idea that she can go out into the world and accomplish whatever she sets her mind to.”
The success of GRCA is best measured by the accomplishments achieved during camp, which carry over into the girls' lives at school and at home. During the camp week, girls work together in their bands to write and perform original songs — and most of the participants have no musical or performance experience. After camp, GRCA staff and volunteers regularly receive feedback from parents about their daughters’ increased confidence and ability to relate to peers.
One parent, Robyn, wrote about her nine-year-old daughter Zoe’s experience. “It's really cool for my girls to have strong female role models who have done things differently, who have made other choices and taken radically different paths, and who have happy, productive, fulfilling lives to show for it. I think it gives my girls a greater sense of the possibilities that are open to them.”
Robyn went on to say that she was most impressed by the diversity of GRCA camp instructors. “They are traditional and alternative, straight and gay, famous and unknown. They represent all ages, sizes and colors. Some of them have conventional jobs; some of them not so much. Some of them make good money; others not so much. All of them are beautiful, strong, talented women who give up a week of their lives to empower young girls, to teach them what they know about music, and to share with them a little of what they know about life.”
Modeled after Portland's Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, Girls Rock Camp Austin was started in 2007 by founder Emily Marks. There were 24 girls that first summer. Last year, more than 120 girls were served in two separate sessions. About half of the girls attend on a scholarship, including the recently created Esme Barrera Unlimited Possibilities Scholarship Fund.
The fund was named to honor Barrera, a GRCA volunteer. “The fund was created to ensure that all girls can have a ‘no-bummer summer’ regardless of parents' income,” Chow says. “We think the best way we can honor our beloved volunteer is to keep her enormous spirit alive through as many girls as possible.”
Many other local female musicians teach, coach, and perform at the camp, including Akina Adderley, Lauren Larson (of Ume), Terri Lord, Heather Webb (of BugGirl and Adrian and the Sickness) and Cari Palazzolo.
And many of the campers have gone on to find musical success as well. The band Schmillion formed at GRCA in 2009 and went on win "Best U-18 Band" in the Austin Music Awards three years in row, as well as to open for the Arcade Fire on their Texas tour dates in 2011.
“We’re working for a better future for girls who want to rock in whatever endeavor they choose,” Chow says.
The 2012 dates for Girls Rock Camp Austin are:
SESSION 1: 6/11-15, showcase 6/16
SESSION 2: 7/23-27, showcase 7/28
Go to Girls Rock Camp Austin to register.